Monday, May 2, 2016

Spain’s Priorat Region Gathering International Acclaim

Priorat’s mountainous terrain and low yields allow winemakers to craft intense, full-bodied reds. Some of Spain’s most expensive and sought-after wines come from here.

It’s The End Of The World

“We are not lost, don’t worry” said Oscar Boada, director of Ferrer Family Wines. Our motor coach had gone up and up into mountains with wind turbines on the ridges, past sheer cliffs of rock and through a tunnel. Priorat, one of Spain’s top wine regions, is at the end of the world, Oscar explained.

The Priorat region is protected by mountains and the wineries are hidden amidst almond and olive trees and steeply terraced vineyards. Once you are at the end of the world, apparently, you must still traverse a narrow, curvy dirt road to make it to Morlanda winery.

Innovation and Rebirth

In the 1980s and 1990s, a group of young winemakers called the “Gratallops Pioneers” began planting vines on the steep slopes of the area. The high quality wines transformed the region and put Priorat on the map.

In 2000, the region was raised from DO to DOCa (Denonimanción de Origen Califacada), Spain’s top classification. The challenges of winemaking in Priorat are many, but the rewards are great.

“You can find all of the characteristics of our winery’s vineyards right here,” said Morlanda winemaker Judit Llop, standing on top of a hillside with vines planted in the notched terraces. The climate is dry and Garnacha Tinta and Cariñena flourish in the clay and slate soil that lends wine a stirring minerality.

Most wineries in Priorat are small, with most producing 10,000 to 20,000 bottles per year. Morlanda is the smallest winery in the Ferrer Family Wine group with just 47 acres of vines and it is supported by a small band of employees.

Judit spends a lot of time in the vineyard, making sure that the grapes ripen properly. The winery is on track to obtain organic certification and Morlanda has been experimenting with probiotics in the vineyard.

Proof In The Glass

For those of us who have heard of Priorat, it is all about the reds. So, I was surprised when Judit declared that the Garnacha Blanc and Macabeo blend was the jewel of the winery. We enjoyed a sample not yet bottled and it displayed a brightness with low acidity and tastes of apple and pear. One third of the wine will be aged in French oak to give a toasty flavor.

The flagship of the winery is the the Vi de Guarda Morlanda. Although the DOCa has guidelines for Crianza, Reserva and Grand Reserva, many wineries (or cellars) produce the Vi de Guarda (aged wine) which includes 18 months in oak followed by six months in the bottle.

The Morlanda is 50% Garnacha and 50% Cariñena. The Garnacha lends soft tannins and violet notes while the inky black Cariñena brings an earthy, cola and licorice flavor. The 2010 is a sophisticated wine that needs decanting. “It’s like my little baby,” said Judit. The wine retails for $49 in the US.

The grapes, terroir and creative winemakers of Priorat make the region and Morlanda winery memorable. This is a superior red wine region made all more interesting because it remains undiscovered by many. Make it a point to get acquainted.

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